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MILLER: D.C.’s poker face

Washington is set to be the first legal online gambling den

- The Washington Times - Monday, September 12, 2011

Washington is looking to skirt the federal ban on Internet gambling. Preparations are under way for the launch of iGaming, the District's expansion of the lottery to include various online games of skill and chance.

This would be America's first legalized virtual casino since Congress in 2006 prohibited banks and credit-card companies from conducting transactions across state lines with gambling websites. D.C. has doubled down on Councilman Michael Brown's Lottery Modernization Act, which was slipped into the 2011 budget.

Congress had 30 days to call the District's bluff, but it didn't do so. That means the D.C. Lottery will soon bring Texas Hold 'Em poker, blackjack and electronic versions of scratch games and bingo to anyone over the age of 19 within city limits with a computer and a bank account.

Some Washingtonians feel they are being dealt a bad hand, and opposition has forced postponement of the planned Oct. 1 start date.

Buddy Roogow, executive director of D.C. Lottery and Charitable Games, told The Washington Times, "We don't want to move forward with the program until we are given guidance from the the city council."

The idea remains controversial. D.C. City Council Chairman Kwame Brown told The Washington Times in a newsmaker interview that he thinks iGaming is a bad idea.

"I oppose all gambling," he said. "I don't even like the lottery - the money from it was supposed to go to education, but just goes into a general fund. ... I don't believe we should have casinos and gambling because we want to raise revenue. You can't tell me that the only way to raise revenue is to put slot machines in 7-Elevens."

The council's gambling advocates, on the other hand, hope to rake in about $14 million over four years.

To keep gambling-addicted residents from losing their shirts in a single hand, players will be restricted to depositing no more than $250 a week into their gambling account. By comparison, online casinos in places like British Columbia, Canada, allow weekly deposits of $10,000.

"We're not trying to appeal to professional gamblers," explained Mr. Roogow.

This multimillion jackpot for the spending-addicted District government is a cause for concern. As Mr. Brown pointed out, the money will be thrown into the general fund for more and more big-government programs. Now that D.C. has thrown down its cards, states such a Nevada, New York and California aren't far behind with their own efforts to harness Lady Luck to balance their books.

People like to gamble and should have the right to do whatever they want with their own money. Governments shouldn't grant themselves an online poker monopoly, considering private companies can do the job just as well or better.

The fiscal mess at every level of government comes from too much spending, not from too little revenue. Instead of bureaucratizing games of chance, government needs to do less and live within its means.

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